MSAD 9 school board sends consolidation plan to state

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FARMINGTON – A frustrated school board reluctantly approved sending a revised consolidation plan to the state Department of Education at their Tuesday evening meeting, after hearing an update from the superintendent.

Five directors voted against sending the plan, which contains mostly boiler plate corrections, as well as the controversial anti-cost shifting plan under the heading “13-B.”

Superintendent Michael Cormier gave a brief description of the events surrounding the discovery of a substantial shift of local costs from MSAD 58 to MSAD 9 communities should the consolidation go forward. The discovery was made after the DOE looked into the financial data when the town of Weld closed its school. The agency discovered that the shifting of the burden to pay the local share for education was far greater than originally anticipated.

“That was new news,” Cormier said, “it was not good news.”

13-B states that the first year of consolidation would shift no costs, with the shifts being added in by 20 percent increments over each year. By year six of the plan, the cost shift would be unfettered, but at that point the new school board would have prepared several budgets and be able to reduce the impact.

After a series of Regional Planning Committees that have punctuated worsening relations between the two districts and repeated changes in the interpretation of the consolidation law, the majority of the board now appears against its implementation. MSAD 9’s directors, Scott Webber of New Vineyard, Robert Pullo of Wilton,  Robert Flick of Farmington, Bill Reid of New Sharon and Mark Prentiss of Industry, all voted in opposition to even sending the consolidation plan to the DOE.

“This would just be a terrible thing to enter into,” Prentiss said, “because there is no exit strategy. There’s no way out.”

Director Neil Stinneford of Weld, however, said that getting the plan in front of the voters was a better idea than openly defying state law.

“The sooner we can get the thing on the ballot,” he said, “the sooner we can vote the damn thing down.”

Chairman Raymond Glass noted that the board making an recommendation or announcement about their view of the consolidation plan was not out of the question. A public hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Mt. Blue High School auditorium to help inform the public, and directors can state their private views at that time as well.

Cormier noted that going through the process and showing due diligence probably increased the district’s chance of getting an alternate plan, consisting of only the existing nine member towns, approved.

“If SAD 9 voters were to vote this down and if we were to get the support from our legislators who have a fair amount of influence,” Cormier said, “then I think a new plan could get approved.”

Due to MSAD 9’s student population, DOE Commissioner Susan Gendron would need to approve a waiver for a MSAD 9 stand-alone plan.

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